Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

Freedom of Information – Act 2

on 2009 October 26

(letter to elected representatives)

Please introduce legislation to expand the Freedom of Information Act to a new level. The original act made transparency the rule, and secrecy the exception, in theory. But the act allows the executive branch to keep something secret just by stating a reason why they don’t want to release it, and it also gives them the ability to be noncompliant with no repercussions.

 

What is needed now is an act that directs the executive branch to operate publicly at all times, and puts the burden on Congress to determine if something should be kept secret. The order needs to be court-enforceable. The new act needs to distinguish between (1) releasing hidden information, and (2) operating in a transparent way in the first place. Transparency in operations means every piece of correspondence, email, expenditure, and audio notes from meetings is published on the web at the moment it is created. Nothing would ever be “unveiled” (a common word used in government reporting), because nothing would have been veiled in the first place.

 

What led me to this conclusion was my recent review of the WTC building 7 report from NIST, and the public comments on the report. The NIST report may or may not be plausible, and I’m not asking for a new investigation. A new investigation under the same rules of conduct would have the same result. It is useless to pretend that the government – any government – can produce an “unbiased” consensus opinion from closely guarded evidence. It is not even necessary for the government to have any interpretation of how the building was destroyed. Instead, the government simply needs to release all evidence and let the media and citizens who have an interest draw their own conclusions. The government seized footage and other evidence, and prevented media access in all the 9/11 sites, and that fact alone is sufficient grounds to disregard any government findings. The simplest and most common explanation for keeping a secret is to protect the guilty, as you may remember from childhood.

 

Under the current system allowing the executive to keep secrets at will, we have little protection from this type of terrorist activity. There are many other buildings like WTC7, and currently building owners and local safety inspectors have no new information that will keep these buildings safe. Whoever brought down WTC7 could bring down hundreds of other buildings, perhaps all in the same day.

 

If 9/11 were to happen under an expanded Freedom of Information Act, taxpayer money would go towards obtaining copies of all footage, publishing it, sending debris and all physical evidence to universities around the county and other institutions, who could collaboratively get to the bottom of it much more quickly and accurately than government can. Naturally this would be more chaotic and many false conclusions would be circulated, but that is part of democracy. Having access to just one official story is not part of democracy.

 

You may or may not believe that office fires can make steel brittle. I don’t know – I’m not a structural engineer either. But a full transparency rule is not just about terrorist investigations – it would improve outcomes on health, transportation, energy policy, and everything else. This is one important step towards keeping expanded executive powers in check and sustaining our democracy.

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